The Rays were not a good offensive team by any measure in 2012. And with B.J. Upton set to depart as a free agent, the Rays’ offense is set to be only worse this coming season. With that in mind, the Rays are going to have to heavily consider trading their pitching depth for quality bats to get their offense up to par. Could a possible trade target to start making that happen be the Colorado Rockies‘ Dexter Fowler?
Fowler, who will turn 27 in March, is not so young anymore, but he has three years of team control remaining as an arbitration-eligible player before hitting free agency and has a solid offensive pedigree including a great 2012 season. This past year, Fowler posted a .300/.389/.474 line (117 OPS+) with 18 doubles, 11 triples, 13 homers, 53 RBI, 12 of 17 stolen bases, and 128 strikeouts versus 68 walks in 143 games and 530 plate appearances. For his career, Fowler has a .271/.364/.427 line, an even 100 OPS+, exactly the league average for Coors Field. A major problem is that league average for Coors, renowned for being an extreme hitter’s ballpark is far from league average for Tropicana Field, which heavily favors pitchers. Per Baseball-Reference’s Neutralized Batting tool, Fowler would have just a .252/.341/.399 if you put him in Tropicana Field for his whole career. Even so, that’s good for a .740 OPS that is no far off from Upton’s .758 mark for his career. But the stats aren’t everything, especially as we take them with a grain of salt coming out of Coors.
Fowler features solid bat speed with decent power, good plate discipline, and great speed would be put to better use on a more aggressive basestealing team like the Rays. He has the ability to be a better hitter than Upton in terms of batting average and OBP, but his power doesn’t come close. Fowler would probably be around a 10-homer threat in Tropicana Field, nothing more. The Rays would love to replace Upton with a power hitter, but as long as they think Fowler can be a productive player otherwise, that would not preclude them from acquiring him. But another issue with Fowler is his defense. Fowler has been considered a significantly below-average defender by both UZR and FRAA. UZR thinks he’s among the worst in baseball at a ridiculous -39.1 mark the past five years (39.1 runs below average), while FRAA considers him simply bad at -5.6. Upton was another player whose defense was considered at times to be questionable, but he has an 18.1 career UZR and a 0.1 career FRAA. The Rays really were stung by their defense this season, and although their infielders (particularly the shortstops) were certainly the primarily culprits, they need every defensive advantage they can get.
In terms of salary, Fowler made 2.35 million dollars this season and expects to see raises the next three years in arbitration. His salary still should not be a real issue for the Rays if they’re interested in trading for him.
Fowler is a player who the Rays could look into, but he’s far from the ideal type of player that they’re looking for and it’s doubtful that they’ll value him too highly. The Rockies will undoubtedly be looking for a starting pitcher from the Rays in return as their starters managed just a 5.81 ERA in 2012, their worst mark since 1999. The Rays are willing to deal several of their pitchers right now in the right deal: James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, and Alex Cobb. Shields certainly has more value than Fowler and that appears to be the case with Hellickson and maybe even Davis. The most realistic trade scenario might be a straight-up Cobb-Fowler swap or maybe a trade of Davis for Fowler and a prospect or maybe even one of the Rockies’ pitchers, like say Alex White, who was a great prospect not that long ago but was horrific by any measure this season in the big leagues. Fowler will not be one of the Rays’ top targets this offseason but deserves a look as a complementary piece and the Rays could pull the trigger if the price is right.